By Dan Gardner, Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 5, 2011
If someone mentioned terrorism in Europe, you would probably have an idea about the size of the threat and who’s responsible.
It’s big, you would think. And growing. As for who’s responsible, that’s obvious. It’s Muslims. Or if you’re a little more careful with your language, it’s radical Muslims, or “Islamists.”
After all, they were at it again just in the past month. On Dec. 11, a 28-year-old naturalized Swede — originally from Iraq — injured two people when he blew himself up on the way to a shopping district. And on Dec. 29, police in Denmark said they thwarted a plan by five Muslims to storm the office of a Danish newspaper and kill as many people as possible.
So the danger is big and growing, and Islamists are the source. Right?
The European Union’s Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 states that in 2009 there were “294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks” in six European countries. This was down almost one-third from the total in 2008 and down by almost one-half from the total in 2007.
So in most of Europe, there was no terrorism. And where there was terrorism, the trend line pointed down.
As for who’s responsible, forget Islamists. The overwhelming majority of the attacks— 237 of 294 — were carried out by separatist groups, such as the Basque ETA. A further 40 terrorists schemes were pinned on leftist and/or anarchist terrorists. Rightists were responsible for four attacks. Single-issue groups were behind two attacks, while responsibility for a further 10 was not clear.
Islamists? They were behind a grand total of one attack. Yes, one. Out of 294 attacks. In a population of half a billion people. To put that in perspective, the same number of attacks was committed by the Comité d’Action Viticole, a French group that wants to stop the importation of foreign wine.
Now, I don’t want to overdo the point. Europe has major problems with the integration of its Muslim populations and the threat of Islamist terrorism is real. It’s also important to note that the number of attacks does not indicate the full extent of the danger, since Islamists, unlike most terrorists, seek to commit indiscriminate slaughter.
But even with these caveats, the data clearly demonstrate that common perceptions about terrorism in Europe are wrong. To see why that matters, think back to 2005.